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A Week in Education

What do you know? Only a fortnight into the new term and already schools are embroiled in a row over religious symbols. This time it's Robert Napier school in Gillingham. It has found itself in a sticky position after banning 13-year-old Samantha Devine from wearing a crucifix in class. Tory matron-at-large Ann Widdecombe waded into the debate, stating: "It is heavy-handed and asking for trouble." Some would say the same of her recent decision to star in a documentary entitled Ann Widdecombe v The Hoodies.

But if the former Tory frontbencher can get down with the council estate massive, and even refuse a joint without batting an eyelid, then surely a bunch of hardened south London youngsters can perform the opposite trick, and go straight.

That's the aim at Stockwell Park school, which has introduced Sixties-style teaching methods, almost quadrupling its good GCSE grades. "We're not politically correct - we do what works," insisted Mike Rush, the deputy head, pointing to the strict uniform policy and house system which, thankfully, didn't extend to Sixties-style salaries.

A return to more melodic times is being planned by the Department for Education and Skills, which has taken the radical step of appointing a "singing tsar" (Howard Goodall, who wrote the theme tune to the Vicar of Dibley) to compile a national songbook. Robbie Williams' "Angels" and Kylie Minogue's "Can't get you out my head" are just some of the songs they are threatening to include.

Meanwhile, in a rebuff to Ruth Kelly, Gordon Brown has made it known that he will send his son to state school. Alas, he was pipped to the post by David Cameron, who has already made the very personal revelation, touchingly, live on GMTV.

It was an active week in education for the Chancellor, who grabbed hold of Alan Johnson's proposal to make education and training compulsory until the age of 18, reportedly making it the centrepiece of his future prime ministerial plans. The story led to predictions of violence, disruption, mass truancy and greater adult deprivation. Possibly not quite the reaction Mr Brown's spin-doctors were hoping for.

They said...

Test changes are the 'final nail in the coffin of school accountability'

Chris Woodhead We say...

If only. The former chief inspector of schools seems to be under the impression that the Government is planning to get rid of league tables and national key stage tests But before teachers start uncorking the champagne, they need to look closely at what Alan Johnson, the Education Secretary, has said. The Government's plans mean schools will be able to let pupils sit key stage tests earlier, when they are ready. But they will not be allowed to sit them any later than normal, and Mr Johnson has insisted that league tables will continue to be published. If anything, the number of tests children sit will increase by as many as seven times. It's a shame - as this is one rare occasion that teachers might hope that Mr Woodhead, their former bete noire, was right.

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